Calls for copyright reform are coming from every corner of the globe— from new international treaties to U.S. congressional hearings. The role of copyright is becoming increasingly visible to the public, and authors, publishers, consumers, and policymakers all have stakes in future changes. Most people agree that copyright laws around the world need to keep pace with technological developments, but there has been much contention so far over the question of how to update them. Whatever changes are made to copyright laws, one thing is clear: we must maintain the classic balance between the interests of creators of copyrighted works and consumers.
It’s indisputable that technology has taken us far. But it’s also clear that copyright laws in major economies were not developed to accommodate the creation of the Internet, the rise of user-generated content, or the speed with which digital works are replacing nondigital works in everyday life. In general, our current copyright laws do not comprehensively address the increasingly complex issues of the Internet era. In the past, copyright industries were focused on technologies such as the photocopier, fax machine, and cable television. New areas of focus include orphan works, mass digitization, 3-D printing, and modernizing licensing systems.
At the Copyright Clearance Center, we are hopeful about the future of copyright reform efforts. We see evidence that when parties representing a comprehensive range of constituencies are determined to effect change, they can accomplish a great deal. For example, in July, a dozen leading media and copyright organizations, including CCC, participated in the launch of the first phase of the U.K.’s ambitious Copyright Hub.
This innovative, public-private partnership grew out of recommendations to the government from the Hargreaves Report, a study that looked at the challenges and opportunities for intellectual property in the digital age. As part of the study’s groundbreaking vision for a digital copyright exchange, the Copyright Hub aims to leverage technology to make copyright research and permissions across all media more straightforward and easier to navigate for users of copyrighted material.
Also this summer, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was adopted. Put simply, the treaty makes it possible for visually impaired people to use and enjoy text-based works just as their sighted neighbors and colleagues do, in countries that, unlike the U.S., previously made access to these works difficult, while preserving the appropriate protections for copyright holders.
In the U.S., calls for review and reform of copyright have come from the highest levels of government. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, in a statement this summer before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, urged Congress to consider updates to domestic copyright law in order to “put forth a forward-thinking framework for the benefit of both culture and commerce alike.” Likewise, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a paper on “Copyright Policy, Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy,” seeking comments from the public. Congress has also begun to hold hearings on this topic.
Throughout 2013, European policymakers have been actively considering copyright reform through a structured stakeholder dialogue addressing six issues that the European Commission has determined require rapid progress. These areas of focus include user-generated content, access to audiovisual works, and increased coordination of copyright laws across Europe. Members of the European Parliament have referred to this work as “an effort to make European copyright fit for purpose in the digital age.”
In such a dynamic environment, it is encouraging to see legislators and policymakers taking the lead on copyright reform. Businesses and individuals in the creative and copyright fields should be proactive in informing their representatives in government of their perspectives, both as producers and as consumers.
Copyright law today is widely recognized as an engine of innovation and a driver of economic growth, and copyright industries are recognized as critical elements in national and regional economies. In the last decade, advances in technology have dramatically accelerated commercial and consumer options for creating, distributing, sharing, and preserving content. In the future, demand for access to copyrighted materials in all formats will only increase. The world will therefore wrestle with copyright challenges and opportunities for generations to come. A balanced approach is the fairest and wisest course to resolve these challenges now and in the future.